Search Quality > Politics

[I wrote this in January 2008 but never posted it. I think people might still want to read this, so I'm posting it now.]

In an election year, everybody gets a little more sensitive about politics, so I wanted a write a pre-emptive post in case anyone accuses Google of political bias in our search results sometime this year.

This is my personal opinion, but in my way of looking at the world, search quality > politics. That is, preserving the quality and accuracy of our search results is the best way we can help our users, while skewing our search algorithms to espouse a particular political party’s viewpoint would be anathema. This month I finish my eighth year at Google and begin my ninth (geez, I’m old), and in that entire time I can’t remember even the tiniest suggestion to bias Google’s search results toward any political party. The trust of our users is important, and in my opinion it would be an abuse of that trust to skew our search results toward any particular political view. I suspect that if you checked with old-timers at other search engines, they’d say similar things.

5 things you (probably) don’t know about me

(I was rooting around and found this leftover post from 2006 and figured I’d throw it out here.)

It looks like blog tag has come to the search bloggers. I’ve been tagged by so many people that I yield and surrender obscure facts about me.

  1. When I was growing up in Eastern Kentucky, there wasn’t always a lot to do. In high school, we once played Car Tag. In real tag, you chase people around until you can catch them. Car tag is played the same way. In order to win, you have to touch your car to the other person’s car. As I recall, I won at car tag. Please do not try this at home. Now we have things like the web to avoid boredom.
  2. My first computer was a Timex/Sinclair ZX81 that my Dad assembled from a kit. When we maxed out the 2K memory, he bought us a 16K expansion module. My second computer was a Commodore 64. I was a Commodore fan long after it was clear that IBM PCs would dominate that decade of computing.
  3. Growing up, my mother was an evangelical Christian and my father was a physics professor. As a result, I learned to have a healthy respect for people with different opinions and perspectives.
  4. In my freshman year of college, I was the eight-ball champion for my dorm. There was another guy who was better than me, but he had bad luck in the final game. On a good day at Google, I could sometimes beat Google Fellow Jeff Dean, who is a sharp guy with a pool cue. Now I haven’t played in years, so I probably suck big rocks at pool. Huh, Danny likes billiards too. Danny, we’re clearly just going to go a bowling/pool frenzy when you make it back to the valley. :)
  5. One of my cats, Emmy, likes nooks and crannies. Her favorite is curling up in a box or bag:
  6. Emmy in a grocery bag

Note: Back in 2006 I was going to tag a few people, e.g. Jim Allchin, but Allchin has left Microsoft and probably has better things to do now. That’s the hazards of doing blog posts ~3 years too late!

xkcd @ Google!

[Adding an xkcd cartoon to my last post made me remember that I had this leftover post that I never published.]

I’m ruthless in pruning my work email down to the essentials. In particular, I auto-archive emails about different speakers at Google. So many neat/fun speakers are always visiting Google that if I started going to all those cool lectures, I’d never get my regular work done.

I’m at peace with that choice, but it does mean that sometimes I find out about awesome speakers at Google by reading about them on an outside blog.

I missed Randall Munroe, the guy that draws xkcd, which is a bummer. It’s one of my favorite net comics. Here’s my favorite xkcd:

Funny xkcd comic

My second-favorite is this map of the internet, because some real internet cartographers used the idea and made a real map of the internet with the same basic design.

If you like xkcd, Ellen has a great post about Randall Monroe’s visit to Google.

SEO Advice: Getting Links

[Note: This post was written in December 2005 (!). I'm going through some of my old draft posts and publishing the ones that aren't too awful. Some of these "Leftovers" will be rough.]

Okay, here are some ways to get high-quality links without emailing, paying, or even paying attention to search engines:

Provide a useful one-time service. It really doesn’t take very much. Here are some examples:

  • Check out http://www.stclaire.com/go/industrial_signage/sb2/html in Internet Explorer. You have to sign up for a free account, but then this site provides an online interface to create ANSI-compliant warning signs, and you get PDF files ready to print. This site is great for making gag signs. Here’s one I made in just a few minutes:
    Watch out for falling spam!
  • Is that too much trouble? You don’t know how to create PDFs, or you don’t have safety clip art lying around? Okay, here’s a simpler example: everyone hates getting spam email. If you leave your email address lying out on the web, you’ll get more email spam. Here’s a site that lets you make a graphical badge instead: http://gsig.brightdev.com/index.php. That url is for Gmail, but http://esigs.brightdev.com/ lets you make sigs for Hotmail, Yahoo!, AOL and others.
  • Is that too much trouble? Graphics mojo leave you cold? Well, you can also encode email addresses using JavaScript or character entities. For example, http://www.wbwip.com/wbw/emailencoder.html can turn a normal email address like user@example.com into something like
    daven@spammer.com
    that email harvesters won’t bother with.
  • Make a robots.txt validator.

Provide an ongoing service:

  • Web-based services like Bloglines are a great example.

Become a resource:

  • You can do this with a personal or company blog. Blogs are a great way to get link love or just to get your word out.
  • If blogs sound scary, start out with newsletters. Or studies. Or surveys. Or white papers.
  • Once a company (I’ll call them site A) that does language translations asked me why they didn’t rank as highly as another website (I’ll call them site B). When I checked it out, site A had very little content, just 5-6 pages with contact info and a short description of what they did. It was like an online brochure. So what did site B have? They offered a tutorial about the difference between Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji, plus they showed how to write a few characters. Who would you link to, the empty brochure site or the site with tutorial pages?

Provide valuable information.

Be the first. Be the first means coming up with a creative idea that catches the fancy of the web.

Who appointed Loren Baker the judge of the best search blogs? No one at all: he just saw a creative opportunity and took it.

Get an article written about you. Be aware that controversy gets attention, but can also affect how people perceive you. If you bait people too often, that affects your reputation.

Open up your product:

  • I bought a TiVo because I could hack it. I chose XM Radio because they offered they offered a device (the XM PCR) that allowed your computer to get analog satellite radio. And this sexy device has an open-source server so that you can stream RSS or almost any other info to the device in addition to playing music. Help people tinker and hack with your product. When I found out that a local computer store had a 160GB external hard drive that could be hacked to run Linux, I ran out and got one. I installed Linux on it (because I could, dammit!), and made it into a streaming MP3 jukebox. What did I do after that? I went down to the computer store and bought a spare! Buffalo LinkStation, you rule! And because I could hack around with the 160GB hard drive, now I’m eyeing their 1.6 terabyte TeraStation. [Editor's note: I did get the TeraStation and it served me well for years.] All this because I was able to tinker/hack/mod a product.

[There you go. I think most of these ideas have aged pretty well.]

Blogger Play

http://play.blogger.com/ is really addictive. It’s a slideshow of pictures that are currently uploading to blogger. I remember the first time I realized that the nightly TV news would never play re-runs; if you missed the show that night, you wouldn’t see it again. This new feature has the similar feel: there’s a river of pictures flowing up to Blogger, and if you aren’t watching, you might miss gems.

Googlified points out that if you use blogspot.com and don’t want to participate, it’s easy to opt out, and also that Flickr has something similar. The Flickr slideshow has a lot to recommend it, including a row of thumbnail previews at the bottom and the ability to choose tags to view. On the fastest setting of each, Play shows photos 3-4x faster than Flickr’s slideshow, but they’re both cool.

The only downside I’ve noticed is that (at least on my XP machine using Firefox) Play seems to eat up memory and never free it, so don’t be surprised if Firefox crashes (it could be one of my browser extensions, of course). Internet Explorer seems fine.

Fun stuff. When lots of people are uploading pictures or willing to label items in a photo, you can do some pretty amazing things. Check out two SIGGRAPH papers from 2007: one uses Flickr to remove or change parts of a picture (see below), while the other lets you insert new photo objects into an image.

Original picture Doctored picture

If you’re not familiar with SIGGRAPH, check out some of the video highlights from the 2007 program. I especially enjoyed the image resizing demo at around 1 minute, 43 seconds into the video. I wish YouTube let you create bookmarks at a specific point in a video like you can with Google Video, but the whole video is fun to watch.

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