Archives for April 2008

Nice “News quote” feature

Google just announced a cool addition to Google News. If you search for a person’s name on Google News, you can see statements where that person has been quoted by a news source. For example, search on Google News for [Arnold Schwarzenegger] and you’ll see

Newsquotes from Arnold

It’s like how smart the feature is. It can correctly handle hard cases like “she said” or “he said” quite well. Note that the mention of “True Lies” in the first quote didn’t throw it off, even though it was in quotes too. Once you’re looking at the news quotes of a person, you can also search within their quotes. So you could see what Arnold had to say about California’s hands-free cellphone law by searching his quotes for [cellphone].

I like that Google is doing this for a couple reasons. First, it’s an additional way to slice and dice news information that wasn’t really available before. In that sense, it reminds me of taking geographic mentions in books and plotting that data on a map of the world or over time. There’s no way to do that scale of research or analysis by hand.

The other reason that I like this feature is that it fits in with a basic Google philosophy, which is “you enter whatever interests you in the search box, and we’ll try to do something smart to help.” I really like that we have features like a smart calculator. Or that you can type in [whois] and we’ll give you some information about the domain. Or that you can type in an airline flight like [aa 125] and get up-to-the-minute flight status. Users don’t have to do anything special, but we work hard to show something helpful for each search.

Socially exhausted

I communicate with people in lots of ways: face-to-face, email, via my blog, leaving comments in the blogosphere, conferences, etc. At SMX West a couple people asked “I sent you a friend invite on service X but you haven’t responded. Do you not like me?” Please don’t feel bad, because it’s not that. I’m letting a lot of requests drop on the floor — even requests from other Googlers to chat on Google Talk. I did a quick check of various social services and here’s what I found:

LinkedIn: 176 invitations to connect
Twitter: 671 requests 1060 requests
Google Talk: 27 chat requests
Facebook: 190 friend requests
MySpace: 35 friends, and it’s a fake account that someone else set up in my name (I’m not 42 years old, thank you very much 🙂 ).

At this point, managing friend invitations feels more like work than fun. Many of these services have really poor interfaces for mass approving, and a while ago I discovered that if I stopped responding to friend requests, very few people got angry with me. So if I haven’t responded to a friend request from you, please don’t take it personally — I’m just a little socially exhausted.

By the way, I have a precise measurement of being Calicanissed. He told his twitter following to add me, and I got almost exactly 400 additional twitter requests. Jason didn’t know it, but I had my twitter set to the private mode that requires each twitterer to be approved. Thanks, Jason. 😉

Two Search Interviews

Popular Mechanics asks 20 questions of Udi Manber, who is a VP of Engineering at Google on core search quality. My favorite:

There have been a lot of fads in search of late, such as Human Assisted Search and contextual search. Do those get folded into search as a whole? What are real trends in search and what are fluff?

So let me first tell you about Google. At Google we do not manually change results. For example, if we find for a particular query that result No. 4 should be result No. 1, we do not have the capability to manually change it. We made that decision not to put that capability in the algorithm—we have to go and actually change the algorithm. That is, we have to find what weakness in the algorithm caused that result and find a general solution to that, evaluate whether a general solution really works and if it’s better, and then launch a general solution. That makes the process slower, but it puts a lot more discipline on us and makes it more unbiased.

That’s the right answer for a general/Popular Mechanics audience. For the nitpicking search junkies that read here, I’ll just add that we are willing to take manual action on a small number of issues like webspam and removals for legal reasons. The rest of the interview was also interesting.

One other interview: A few months ago I talked with John Jantsch for the Duct Tape Marketing blog, but I don’t think I pointed the interview out to folks here. The MP3 is up on the site, if you want your search engine optimization (SEO) interview fix. I think this is a pretty good interview if you’re a small business owner or a little newer to SEO.

Speaking of MP3s, I’m caught up on my Daily SearchCast and I’m looking for maybe one other podcast to add to my listening rotation. What podcast would you recommend that I try? I don’t mind something outside of search — in fact, a non-search podcast might be nice to listen to something different.

Technology moves fast

Sometimes I feel like the technology space moves slowly. Cool new devices appear every few months, but I want neat new things every day! When I feel like this, it’s tough to remember that technology moves quite quickly compared to most industries. I was recently at a book sale and picked up a techno-thriller from 1996 called Back Slash. As pulpy books go, it wasn’t half bad. Until I arrived at this passage about twenty pages into the book:

To the right of the desk, in an oak cabinet custom-built by Crane, were three midtower computer cases. Each housed a Pentium-based computer system capable of 166 MHz processor speed. Each had 128 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and a 1.6-gigabyte hard drive. The video card of each held two megabytes of memory, and he could channel the output from the three machines to either of his two monitors. He could also link them in parallel for greater computer power. Twenty thousand bucks, right there. ….

Directly above the desk, the shelves held a variety of easily accessible accessories: a 5-1/4-inch floppy-disk drive–in case he ever needed it, two 3-1/2-inch disk drives, two one-gigabyte tape-backup drives, three multidisc CD-ROM players, two 28.8-kilobytes-per-second fax modems, and on one shelf, ten 4.3-gigabyte hard-disk drives.

Crane figured he could store much of the Pentagon’s data here if he wanted to have their crap on hand.

I had to put the book down and leave it. The description of a “cutting edge system” was so jarring that I could no longer suspend my disbelief. A videocard with two megabytes of memory? Geez. It makes 1996 feel like this:


[Image CC-licensed by Steve Jurvetson.]

It makes me want to rev up my grumpy-old-man voice:

“Back in my day, we had 300 baud modems and we were grateful! Sometimes you’d type too fast and you’d have to wait for the modem to catch up.”

“You know, in our high school typing class we had to use mechanical typewriters. No joke.”

“We had to type programs into our Commodore 64 from magazines. And in those days, the magazines didn’t even have checksums!”

What old timey technology story would you tell?

Please don’t send me free stuff

The title pretty much says it all. A while ago, someone saw my call for good summer vacation reading and the resulting pile of Amazon books that I bought, and they sent me a couple free books, maybe to get a review or a mention. I appreciate the creativity, but please don’t send me any books or other free stuff. If you’ve got a new book coming out, I’m happy to hear about it, but if I decide to read or review it I’ll buy my own copy.

A while ago, someone sent a big cookie with a “No spam” message like this:

No spam cookie

I appreciate the thought, but please don’t send me any free stuff. Google has a gift policy to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Even if Google didn’t have such a policy, I wouldn’t want to accept any gifts of value, because it’s important to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Usually I just give away any unsolicited stuff that gets sent my way. Thanks. 🙂