I’m really late giving thoughts on SES San Jose 2007, but better late than never!
For much of 2007, we’ve been working to get more Googlers doing different types of communication. I really saw that effort bear fruit in San Jose. From the webspam team, Greg Grothaus and Shashi Thakur were first-time SES speakers and did a great job. Also from webspam, Evan Roseman spoke again. We also had SES veterans like Shuman and Amanda Camp, plus lots of other speakers.
I’ll try to post about all the Googlers working on communication at some point, but for now just look at the last 10-15 posts on the Official Google Webmaster blog. Pretty much every post was written by a different person. That’s a lot of different people talking on the official blog for webmasters.
The only panel I did was the “Are Paid Links Evil?” session. After the “Personalized Search: Fear or Not?” panel at SMX Seattle I had joked that Michael Gray was easier on me than Tim Mayer, so Michael probably came after me even more than he normally would have. I did my slides from scratch again so that they would be easier to release to everyone, not just conference attendees. I got approval to release the slides, so here they are. Lots of people wrote up the panel; Rand did a good job of documenting the session. I think people are familiar with Google’s stance and we’ve said pretty much the same thing on this subject since 2005, so I’m going to try to avoid getting pulled back into that discussion unless there’s something new to add.
It was great to see old friends and meet a few new people. I got to meet Kevin Newcomb, the new daily news editor for Search Engine Watch and we walked around the show floor chatting and checking out the exhibit floor. And somehow I’d missed talking to Kim Krause Berg all this time — thanks to Brett Tabke for getting us talking. Can you believe that Cre8asiteForums just turned five years old? It was fun just talking to lots of folks, including Xoogler Vanessa Fox. Joe Hunkins and I finally got to talk face-to-face, and spent our time discussing Techmeme and artificial intelligence (Joe asked Marissa Mayer about it as well).
Speaking of Marissa Mayer, someone asked her a question about a favorite topic of mine: search augmented by humans. I was very happy to see that she gave almost exactly the same answer I would have given. Actually, she probably said it better than I would. Lisa Barone summarized it thusly:
Google is often painted as the algorithm purist. That they believe in all algorithm, all the time and they don’t get humans involved. That’s not true. The algorithm is important because it’s the only way to ensure comprehensiveness. But once you have that base of algorithm, you can layer that human input into it. Now Google is starting to look at things like Google Co-op where users are layering results or Google Notebook where users are pulling information themselves. The best answer is to layer both the algorithm and humans together.
And Tamar Weinberg wrote it down as:
Marissa: Google is painted as the algorithmic purist. That’s not our view. The algorithmic approach is important. That said, once you had the basic algorithm, you can layer human elements into it. We have properties like Google Co-op where people can label items and Google Notebook which has human interaction. But you need to layer the two together – algorithms and human elements to achieve relevance.
See my previous post for more background and to read about how both Marissa and Larry have been open and pragmatic about the idea of “person + machine” instead of “only machine.”
I spent most of the Google Dance in the Meet the Google Engineers room; as you can tell from that photo, we probably had 30 engineers talking with webmasters and answering various questions. I think a lot of people really enjoyed the Google Dance, judging from the photos of hundreds of people dancing:
I also saw new Googler Rick Klau in person for the first time at SES; he gave a great talk that drove home that you should be using the free MyBrand service if you use Feedburner. Let’s see, what else? Oh, DaveN hadn’t tried Google Reader since it turned kick-ass; I almost pulled him away from Bloglines until Ask rolled out a new beta version of Bloglines. And as long as I’m giving kudos to competitors, congrats to Yahoo for giving webmaster more control over url rewriting, and congrats to MSFT for announcing their upcoming webmaster portal, which will debut later this fall.
At last year’s SES San Jose conference we had a small under-NDA roundtable with about 15-20 different webmasters. We had another roundtable this year with about 20 people to pick their brains. They gave us feedback on what Google should be working on, and in return we did some Q&A with them and they got dinner at the Googleplex and a tour. Somehow some Werewolf cards showed up, and after dinner we played Werewolf until about 10 p.m.
All in all, it was a good conference. The sessions were solid, tons of people visited the Googleplex to ask questions/dance/drink (maybe not in that order), and we got a lot of useful feedback.
Update: Mike McDonald and I did an interview at SES San Jose and ended up talking about invalid clicks, which was fun.