Sharing a search story

I’ve been reading a lot of the coverage of the Search plus Your World launch and I wanted to share my story and then clarify something.

I love to stay up until early in the morning playing Werewolf. In early December I went to a journalism conference called “News Foo Camp” in Phoenix and played a lot of Werewolf. When I got back, for some reason I searched for [werewolf] — maybe I was thinking about making a custom deck of werewolf cards. Because I was dogfood-testing Search plus Your World, this is what I saw:

Search for werewolf

In the top row of pictures, you’ll see a bunch of people playing werewolf, including a picture of me as the werewolf in the top-left image. Doing a generic search like [werewolf] or [photos] and getting back a picture of you or your friends is a pure, magic moment.

Let me tell you how it happened. I have Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick in a circle on Google+, because he’s in charge of Google’s Data Liberation Front and he’s an all-round awesome guy to boot. Fitz published an album of 25 Werewolf photos shortly after the conference. Okay, but I’m only in one of the 25 pictures; how did Google return the picture of me first? It turns out that Brian had tagged me in that single photo.

Once you know the trick, it might not seem like magic anymore. In fact, this is the “things just work” experience that everyone in the tech industry strives for. But when I searched for [werewolf] and got back a recent picture of me playing werewolf, it did seem like magic right then. I suspect as more people take Search plus Your World out for a test drive, they’ll quickly experience similar magical “Aha!” moments like I did.

I was reading some of the comments on tech blogs, and I wanted to clarify something: Search plus Your World does surface public content from the open web, not just content from Google+. For example, look back up to the top-right image from my screenshot above. That’s actually a werewolf photo that Gina Trapani took and it’s hosted on Flickr, not Google.

Here’s another example. If you follow the excellent and erudite Jennifer 8 Lee and search for [general tso’s chicken], Google can surface this high-quality thread from Quora:

Quora page

By the way, that’s a fantastic thread for Google to highlight, since Lee literally wrote the book about General Tso’s Chicken. It’s exactly the sort of “just works” user experience you’d want.

It’s not hard to find content shared on other sites. For a search [grand unified theory of snack food], Paul Buchheit shared a link on FriendFeed, and Google can highlight that:

Shared on FriendFeed

Or if I search for [connectbot], here’s a link that Brad Fitzpatrick shared on Live Journal:

LiveJournal example

(Yes, we do have both a Brian Fitzpatrick and a Brad Fitzpatrick at Google. People sometimes mix them up, but they’re different.)

I hope that helps to make my point. Search plus Your World builds on the social search that we launched in 2009, and can surface public content from sites across from the web, such as Quora, FriendFeed, LiveJournal, Twitter, and WordPress.

The team should be finishing the rollout of Search plus Your World in the next day or so, and I hope you enjoy it. Remember, to see the new results, you’ll need to be signed in with a Google account and search on google.com. Give this new feature a whirl: once you see how much better personal search can be, I don’t think you’ll want to give it up.

Beware of fake Matts leaving comments

A lot of the time, I dispel misconceptions by leaving comments on blogs. That works great, except for the rare occasion when someone pretends to be me and leaves a rude, fake, or otherwise untrue blog comment. Over the previous decade, I’ve only seen 4-5 times where someone impersonated me. But in the last month, I’ve seen at least three nasty comments written by “fake Matt Cutts” impersonators.

The first fake-Matt comment I remember was over Marketing Pilgrim around November 14th, 2011. When Frank Reed checked out the fake comment, it came from 74.120.13.132, which is an exit router for Tor. That means someone went to some trouble to hide their tracks.

The second not-Matt comment was on November 18th, 2011. The impersonator wrote:

Normally we do not comment on ranking methods but I’ll explain a misconception: input from manual raters is used only in the rarest of cases when a non-brand cracks the top ten for high value money terms.

The tone (and content) of the comment was so far off that Matt McGee questioned whether it was really me, and I was quickly able to clarify that I never wrote that comment.

The third one I’ve seen was just a few days ago on Search Engine Journal, and included gems like

[Google is] very transparent. Some sites do not even have an address listed, yet we have everything, including the credit card numbers for adword advertisers. That is a strong signal for us to list them ahead in organic search as well.

The claim that “Google ranks AdWords advertisers higher in our search results” is fake and untrue; it was one of the first myths I debunked when I got online.

The web isn’t built to prevent impersonation. On many places around the web, anyone can leave a comment with someone else’s name. So if you see a comment that claims to be from me, but makes crazy claims (e.g. that we preference AdWords advertisers in our search results), let me know. I’m happy to verify whether I wrote a comment, e.g. with a tweet. Thanks.

What cool new websearch ideas should Google launch in 2012?

Even though this year is nowhere near finished, a lot of people at Google are already thinking about things to launch next year. So I wanted to put the question out: what cool things would you like to see Google launch in 2012?

For example, in 2011, we launched hundreds of search quality changes that might not be noticeable, along with a few high-impact changes. But we also added new ways to search, like the ability to search by image and search by voice. We’ve beefed up our social search, and continued to make search faster.

So take a minute to think about potential search features, products, or changes that we could launch next year. As a user (not as an SEO/webmaster/publisher), what cool piece of technology would you like to see Google launch in 2012?

Submit video topics for mid-2011

This submission round is now closed–thanks!

Sometime soon I’m planning to record some new webmaster videos. I created a Google Moderator page where you can post video suggestions and vote topics up and down.

Instead of short 1-2 minute video answers to quick questions, I’d like to try something new this time. I’d like to move toward making tutorials about how Google works and–more importantly–why Google works that way. I think videos that dive deeper like this video about robots.txt can be really helpful. So if there’s a meaty topic that you’d like to hear more about, please head over to the Google Moderator page and ask about it!

Just a reminder: please ask your questions on Moderator, not in the comments here. When you suggest a topic on the moderator page, people can vote for the questions and I can see which questions people are most interested in.

A rel=canonical corner case

I answered an interesting rel=canonical question over email today and thought I’d blog about it. If you’re not familiar with rel=canonical read these pages first. Then watch this video about rel=canonical vs. 301s, especially the second half:

Okay, I sometimes get a question about whether Google will always use the url from rel=canonical as the preferred url. The answer is that we take rel=canonical urls as a strong hint, but in some cases we won’t use them:
- For example, if we think you’re shooting yourself in the foot by accident (pointing a rel=canonical toward a non-existent/404 page), we’d reserve the right not to use the destination url you specify with rel=canonical.
- Another example where we might not go with your rel=canonical preference: if we think your website has been hacked and the hacker added a malicious rel=canonical. I recently tweeted about that case. On the “bright” side, if a hacker can control your website enough to insert a rel=canonical tag, they usually do far more malicious things like insert malware, hidden or malicious links/text, etc.

I wanted to talk today about another case in which we won’t use rel=canonical. First off, here’s a thought exercise: should Google trust rel=canonical if we see it in the body of the HTML? The answer is no, because some websites let people edit content or HTML on pages of the site. If Google trusted rel=canonical in the HTML body, we’d see far more attacks where people would drop a rel=canonical on part of a web page to try to hijack it.

Okay, so now we come to another corner case where we probably won’t trust a rel=canonical: if we see weird stuff in your HEAD section. For example, if you start to insert regular text or other tags that we normally only see in the BODY of HTML into the HEAD of a document, we may assume that someone just forgot to close the HEAD section. We don’t allow rel=canonical in the BODY (because as I mentioned, people would spam that), so we might not trust rel=canonical in those cases, especially if it comes after the regular text or tags that we normally only see in the BODY of a page.

But in general, as long as your HEAD looks fairly normal, things should be fine. If you really want to be safe, you can make sure that the rel=canonical is the first or one of the first things in the HEAD section. Again, things should be fine either way, but if you want an easy rule of thumb: put the rel=canonical toward the top of the HEAD.

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