Thinking about thunder

I read an interesting blog post by Mike Markson, VP of Marketing for Blekko, which is the working name for a new search engine planned to launch to the public in a few months.

The title of Mike’s post was “Google Likes To Steal Other’s Thunder,” and he mentions several anecdotes to back up that idea. I was going to leave a comment on the post, but then Barry wrote about it at Search Engine Land, so I thought I’d go ahead and do a full blog post. I have actual knowledge (gasp!) of some of these incidents, so I can probably clear up a few misconceptions. Let’s walk through Mike’s anecdotes:

* This past Tuesday, Wolfram Alpha announces its structured data search product. On the same day, Google announced its new structured data product.

I wasn’t familiar with this one, so I dropped an email to Ola Rosling, the Googler employee who wrote the blog post announcement. It turns out that there’s a straightforward reason for the timing: the blog post was planned for a different day, but an early/unexpected baby arrival resulted in this blog post being rescheduled.

By the way, Wolfram|Alpha launches later this month and it sounds like a terrific idea. Any website that can blend large-scale data with the the processing power of something like Mathematica is just going to make the web a better place–I can’t wait to play with it.

* July 28, 2008, so called Google killer Cuil launched its search engine. It claimed that their index of 120B documents was 3x that of any search engine. Three days before though, Google announced it knew of 1 trillion URL’s.

I happened to be on the email thread that resulted in Google’s blog post, so I know that we passed one trillion urls seen and decided to do a blog post about it in early-to-mid June 2008, well over a month before Cuil launched and emphasized their index size.

* June 3, 2008, Wikia Search launched a feature that allows users to add and delete URL’s to search results. July 16, 2008, Google announced that it is bucket testing similar features. The features went live a few months later.

Sorry, but Google was testing our add/delete url feature months before Wikia. TechCrunch noticed Google’s add/delete feature as early as November 2007. Here’s an image of the feature from back in 2007:

SearchWiki

* February 25, 2009, Cuil announced it is integrating longer snippets into its results. March 24, 2009, Google announced…you guessed it….longer snippets.

Sorry, but Google was doing longer snippets months before Cuil blogged about longer snippets. See for example this blog post from December 2008. Here’s an image from 2008:

Longer/adaptive snippets

Don’t get me wrong: I think Google can move quickly, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But it doesn’t seem fair to say we’re trying to steal someone’s thunder if (for example) our longer snippets came first. :)

Update: Mike added an update to his post. I’m looking forward to Blekko, because Rich Skrenta and his crew are smart folks. Watch an interview with Rich from a few weeks ago for more info.

39 Responses to Thinking about thunder (Leave a comment)

  1. I think it’s one of those cases of “let’s pick on (x) because they are the leader”. But you already knew that.

    Thanks for the post. I wasn’t aware of the 1 trillion mark. Cool. :)

  2. Images are worth 1000 words, either way Google products almost always end up better. :)

  3. Season 6, Episode 7 of South Park – Simpsons already did it. This situation is all about that. Don’t see any problem with it. Google is big – some people have to start to deal with that…

  4. Microsoft, without a doubt, can relate to this. When you are the big guy your target is all the more evident… comes with the territory.

  5. I think you may have missed the point here, unless this is a deliberate attempt at redirection. No one is saying that Google wasn’t already working on something similar. What is being said is that perhaps Google uses the timing of announcements to draw attention exactly at the moment when someone else is trying to get some attention.

    Just because people internally knew about something has nothing to do with when Google chose to use its loud voice to call people’s attention to it. When a company like Google (or its employees) makes a blog post, a lot of people take notice. The anecdotes are about the curious timing of the announcements not when Google did or did not do something internally.

    For example, if there was an email going around about the 1 trillion urls in, May apparently, and a blog post was planned for June, then why wasn’t the actual post made until July 25? It may be innocent, but in the “instant” world of the Internet, it isn’t absurd to wonder about a 6 week delay and the seemingly “thunder stealing” timing. Is it common course to wait that long before posting something? Have other similar announcements been delayed as long?

    I’m not saying I agree or disagree with the premise, I’m just saying that in each of the cases above, the point in time in which Google chose to speak would indeed be when someone would choose to make some noise in order to steal someone else’s thunder. Whether that is the intention or not, I have no facts upon which to base an opinion. But pointing out that internal communications does nothing to lessen the author’s point.

  6. Do you really believe anyone is going to buy that Google just happened to release their structured data search by coincidence at the exact time the wolfram demo was running?

    Saying yes we constantly try to stay ahead of our competitors in technology and mind share would be fine, but pointing out things from the release of cuil and wikia to prove you didn’t pull a dirty trick during the wolfram alpha demo is definitely “evil” in my mind.

  7. “Do you really believe anyone is going to buy that Google just happened to release their structured data search by coincidence at the exact time the wolfram demo was running?”

    Garth, that’s what happened. You’re welcome to believe it or not, but I checked with Ola and yes, an early baby arrival changed when the blog post happened. Danny checked on this too at http://searchengineland.com/wolfram-alpha-fact-engine-18431 (good article, by the way) . Here’s the relevant part from Danny’s article:

    Google, of course, just rolled out public data search, allowing people to chart out unemployment and population data in the United States (while this seems like a spoiler to Wolfram Alpha, Google’s since told me the exact timing was completely coincidental and even moved at the last minute due to the birth of a child of someone on the team).

    Garth, I’m not saying that Google doesn’t respond to competition or changes in the search space. We do, and I think we do it well. What I did want to point out is that for two of the four things Mike mentioned (long snippets and add/delete url features), Google was actually first. In another case, Google decided and drafted our blog post (I believe) before Cuil decided to make it a talking point. And the alleged rain on Wolfram’s parade wasn’t even deliberate. Heck, I think Wolfram|Alpha will be very cool and I welcome it.

    Brian, some blog posts take a long time and others don’t. I’ve seen blog posts that took much longer to get out. I have some personal blog posts that are months or years overdue. Also, Mike’s post talked about Cuil’s long-snippet blog post in February; our blog post happened almost a month later and also talked about related searches. That’s not stealing thunder; that’s a completely different subject. So not only did Google do longer snippets first (I believe), but our blog post happened almost a month after theirs, and also talked about different subjects (e.g. related searches).

  8. I don’t doubt you were working on these things but … cmon really … just for once I’d like google to fess up to being a ruthless competitor and not being all … i dunno … googly ;-)

    the more “coincidences” the more the body of evidence grows against it not being a coincidence

  9. hey Matt – nice try at stealing my thunder! ;) I’ve updated my post: http://www.marksonland.com/2009/04/google_likes_to_steal_others_t_1.html

  10. graywolf, isn’t it after midnight your time? For the record, I think Google can/does compete well–I just don’t think these were the right examples to make that point.

  11. Dave (Original)

    Matt, out of ALL the misinformation out there on Google, why this one and why now?

    Perhaps in SOME cases the “stealing of thunder” is coincidence, but that’s only because Google either dropped the ball, or they didn’t see x as a threat. Other than that, Google is as ruthless as any publicly owned company who MUST increase profits to keep the wolves at bay.

  12. It’s not that your stuff isn’t out there first in some way, either in a limited test or unpublished but active development. It’s that in many cases the timing of big publicity does serve to ensure Google doesn’t seem behind. It didn’t matter if the blog post on size had been in the works for month as a defense. Cuil had been in the works for months. Google knew it was going to stress size. Someone decided it work make sense to get a size post put there – and did. Absolutely, the exact day of when the Google public data search announcement moved because of the birth. But why was it suddenly the right time in general to push this out, especially when you have only two datasets? And admit there’s lots more work to come? Whybnot push it out later this year? Because doing it now ensures that Google gets mention in any story on Wolfram as potentially being able to do the same thing. Sorry, Matt — Google does have a long history of doing things like this. I could come up with a much longer list than Mike’s, if a really wanted. No need for anyone to apologize for it or even be defensive. It’s smart marketing. But no, the public announcements are just not generally happening fir some random reason. Exact day may very but the general time to go for publicity is very carefully considered.

  13. Bazily

    “I wasn’t familiar with this one, so I dropped an email to Ola Rosling, the Googler employee who wrote the blog post announcement.”

    Which part weren’t you familiar with, Wolfram itself, the Wolfram demo, or the coincidently timed blog post? Was the team also not familiar with a potential competitor with a similar feature? Were they not aware that the time and date of the demo was announced several days earlier?

    Here’s why it’s hard to swallow, in case it’s not clear from the blogosphere and comments to this post:
    - Wolfram publicly thinks they’re a Google killer
    - Wolfram has core functionality similar to what Google was developing
    - Wolfram announced their demo ahead of time
    - Wolfram was covered on Techcrunch and several others, hitting Techmeme several times
    - The excuse is now “someone on the team had a baby” which is great PR work because no one would question a newborn baby and mother (except jerks on the Internet)
    - A Google insider told another blog it was coincidental

    Of course, assuming someone believes all that good stuff, and that the post was scheduled for earlier and then changed, when was it supposed to go out? If it’s was for the day before, most would still argue you were trying to steal Wolfram’s thunder. If it was the week before, before Wolfram’s announcement, then Google’s maternity leave policy must be incredibly broad where not 1 person was available to click the button to publish the blog post.

  14. And commenting via iPhone makes for some interesting typos and autocorrections.

  15. I am competitive I’ll work nights, weekends, before 6 am and after midnight if that’s what it takes to get the job done … and I’m not ashamed or to admit it.

  16. There are things about Google that I like and things that I dislike but it is like I tell everybody else when it comes to our products and services. We are not perfect – yes we are striving for that but are also wise enough to know that we are better than everybody else and ultimately that makes you the best. You don’t give up there! But you certainly take great pride in your accomplishments and what you have to offer. Most big companies feel like they have to defend themselves but the truth is that as long as you stay on the offense by makin gyour product or service better than ultimately what you have out there are a lot of users that occasionally ho on another band wagon vocally but use your service!

    Google redifned the search engine process and has made it the best by far. But know that there is always somebody smarter tyring to build a better mousetrap and if you get complacent you will get you @ss handed to you. Just My two cents!

  17. It makes little difference if the timings of these releases were intentional or not, the simple fact of the matter is it’s good marketing practice to react quickly to publicised information released by your competitors.

    I’d argue that the team leads weren’t doing their job properly if they failed to get releases like these out at the appropriate moment.

    Google is a business, there’s nothing underhanded about them using solid marketing practices to promote that business.

    Just my two penneth ;-)

  18. This is pitiful.

    First of all, the original author of these “findings” seem to be SEARCHING for Google conspiracy theories. It reminds me of the Republican vs. Democrat propaganda/hackery we see on TV… the type that Jon Stewart skewered and Bernie Goldberg denounced. For TV its all about viewers/ratings and this seems like nothing more than an attempt to draw more attention to themselves. In that sense, they’re exhibiting the same behavior their very tirade preaches against.

    Secondly, who really cares if Google WAS doing this? When it comes down to it, Google is a publicly traded company with stock holders to please. They STILL incorporate out-of-the-box thinking to make the world a better place – what other global corporate powerhouse do you know that would rent goats instead of hiring landscapers? While there are bloggers writing about how great this is for the environment and whatnot, there are the “Google Haters” that would rather focus on the negative – like how this might increase the unemployment rate in a troubled economic environment.

    It is unrealistic to think that just because Google has a “Do No Evil” mentality that they will do the exact opposite of what any successful business should do amidst competitive pressure. Seriously… write articles that help your readers instead of wasting their time and polluting the interwebz with this mindless BS.

    Props to Matt for addressing this – with links to the “competitor” and a mention of how cool it seems – when he could have just swept it under the rug and it would have went away.

    Hope you all enjoy that latter portion of your weekend!

  19. @DannySullivan Your blog post about taking a knife to a gunfight is another significant example of this.

    http://searchengineland.com/how-google-shot-microsoft-17095

  20. In fairness, that unemployment graph thing really doesn’t compare in the slightest to what Wolfram are promising….

  21. Hey Mike, thanks for stopping by! I added an update to my post when I saw your tweet that you updated your post.

    Danny, I don’t disagree with anything you said; if Mike had picked different examples, I might not have posted at all. For some of Mike’s examples (e.g. longer snippets), I just don’t consider Cuil’s blog post about that to have changed what Google was talking about at all.

    “Which part weren’t you familiar with, Wolfram itself, the Wolfram demo, or the coincidently timed blog post?”

    Good question, Bazily–I was curious about the timing of the blog post. I’d heard about Wolfram|Alpha and knew enough to know that it certainly was not conventional websearch but more like a big database, some natural language processing, plus lots of mathematical crunching ability.

    “Matt, out of ALL the misinformation out there on Google, why this one and why now?”

    Dave (Original), I think it was the claim that Wikia was first with add/delete url functions. The Wikia blog made that claim in July 2008: http://search.wikia.com/blog/2008/07/17/google-tries-to-copy-wikia-search-but-misses-the-point/ and I stopped by then and left a comment to point out that Google launched our features as early as 2007. For various reasons my comment wasn’t approved for a while. Eventually Wikia updated their blog post (which I appreciate), but hearing the misconception repeated by Mike (and then repeated on Search Engine Land) made me want to clarify that Google tested that UI feature before Wikia, not that we copied Wikia’s feature.

  22. It does hurt when people claim something you know is not true, doesn’t it? But this is what you get when you´re a big company. Bill Gates wasn’t so good at dealing with it, but I think Google is better, though some employees just have to every now and then blog against it,.. :)

    I agree with graywolf that Google can be ruthless, of that I know some examples, but in my opinion that’s only a necessary thing. When does being competitive become evil anyway? That’s always a point of discussion.

  23. Sagar

    These are nothing but clear signs that Google is no different than Microsoft when if comes to handling competition. Only difference Google tries to ware “do no evil” mask…

  24. Even if Google purposely timed these announcements to “steal thunder” from someone else it can hardly be called “evil”. I would call it business. Every gain you make in search marketing in one way or another is stealing something from someone else. When you SEO for a certain keyword you are trying to “steal traffic” from someone else.

    If you have a better product people will use it. I wouldn’t get worked up over something like this. No one ever said business was fair. Thats my take.

  25. Dave (Original)

    Matt, thanks for the answer. It would be great if you could post a “Mythbuster” post each week putting to rest such buzzwords as “aging delay”, “sandbox” etc.

  26. Dave (Original)

    “Do no evil” means Google can do whatever it likes as IT decides what is “evil”.

  27. I find the notion amusing that Google should not be allowed to compete for press…it’s still a free market, and every firm has the right to issue announcements at any time or frequency. My guess is that all these seach engines get a PR boost based on the extra commentary that is generated. This is probably a good thing.

  28. I don’t see what the big deal is. Google is stealing a competitors “thunder”? Cc’mon if you can’t take the heat stay out of the kitchen! I think it is great that Wolfram is trying to make the internet more user friendly & competition is healthy for everyone including Google. But to say Google is somehow hurting Wolfram by announcing there own like system is silly. just my two cents worth.

  29. This seems a bit juvenile. “It’s not yours. It’s mine!” “No it isn’t. I got it for Christmas!”. “No you didn’t. I did!”
    Does it really matter who makes an announcement first. The underlying technology is most important and better still if it can stand the test of time. Why bother competing with Google. Just do something that Google cannot do, simple!

  30. damian

    Matt

    If you are really looking forward to Wolfram|Alpha click here – they are looking for people to play ..

    You never know .. they might just like you to go play ;)

  31. Nicole

    I wish that all of my competitors were as naive as some of these commenters. Whether intentional or not, Google’s timing for these announcements was spot-on. Google is a company; it is their responsibilty to make money. That does not make them evil.

  32. If these start-ups are complaining about competition from big G – it’s like a sailor complaining about the sea.

  33. Zoran

    The best comment to this discussion would be lyrics of “Bijelo Dugme” and here is translation to English:

    what would be given to you in my place
    to hate and you dive
    What would give
    What would give for a great gesture
    his place to live your life
    What would give
    you be happy now
    that you are over the road
    that you let us fervid
    over the chasm divides
    because this is my five minutes
    and before you is the entire life
    what can be given to this
    raise a hand to people and following
    What would give
    l to be, and you in your heart plaque
    as my heart lady
    that you would l

  34. I don’t know whether you knew about this new search engine. Duckduckgo.com. Despite its weird name … it looks promising.

  35. Great information Matt. Are you going to do a write up when Aldpha becomes live? I would be interested to see how well it does!?

  36. Heidi Van Veldhuizen

    Hey, I am just an average person… that uses google. This banter was fun to read. Wow! You guys can get fiesty! Maybe you should all step away from the search engines and go outside. Enjoy spring!

  37. You shouldn’t worry about people attacking google or writing horribly inaccurate and misinformed blog posts. You should worry when people stop ;)

    Noah

  38. I’m seeing a 404 error when trying to access the Deep Web Crawl pdf.

  39. Joseph

    In my law lectures, there was a phrase that was cited repeatedly. It’s actually borrowed from Pr Meadow. “One dead is an accident, two dead is a suspucious, three dead is murder “.

    Sorry but Google is becoming more of a bully now….just like micro****

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