The US Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Protection Bureau last week ordered that Google, Bing, and other search engines that display paid ads, do so in a manner that clearly tells the user “this is a paid ad, not an organic search result”. According to the FTC Press Release,
The updated guidance has been sent to the general-purpose search engines AOL, Ask.com, Bing, Blekko, DuckDuckGo, Google, and Yahoo!, as well as 17 of the most heavily trafficked search engines that specialize in the areas of shopping, travel, and local business, and that display advertisements to consumers.
. . . . consumers should be able to easily distinguish natural search results from advertising that search engines deliver. Accordingly, we encourage you to review your websites or other methods of displaying search results, including your use of specialized search, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising. In addition, as your business may change in response to consumers’ search demands, the disclosure techniques you use for advertising should keep pace with innovations in how and where you deliver information to consumers.
Until now, Google has displayed its advertisers’ paid ads on a pale yellow or pale pink background at the top, bottom, and right margin of its search engine result pages. Users may confuse the paid ads (which are selected by the user’s search phrase) with organic search results. Google calls this system AdWords. It’s their cash cow. Will clear designation of ads affect Google’s ad revenue (99% of its income)?
Google is a powerful search engine, as are Bing, Yandex, et al, but they’re all proprietary: their spiders crawl the web and vacuum-up information which they store within their own walls. (Google calls its web index BigTable.) Yes, we can use their search engine user interfaces, but exactly what algorithms they use remains proprietary and for the most part, secret.
Common Crawl Foundation (Commoncrawl.org) was created in 2007 with the goal of crawling the web and making the discovered information available to the public, to do with as it pleases. Common Crawl claims to have stored about six billion web pages in their index and they publish a free library of program code to access it.
Applications that use the Common Crawl index are beginning to appear. Lucky Oyster uses the Common Crawl index to reveal previously hidden social networking relationships to users.
MIT’s Technology Review published an article recently that speculates that, thanks to Common Crawl, now Google-scale start-ups can get underway without having to crawl the web themselves, dramatically reducing their need for capital. Walled gardens such as Facebook and LinkedIn block spiders from crawling their sites — they’re all about locking up information. It’ll be fun to watch the tug of war between the proprietary and the open model in the web search arena, My money is on the open model.
Millionshort.com may be the anti-SEO[*] search engine. I’ve not been able to learn much about millionshort.com, other than that they seem to be Canada-based. Their domain registration expires next year, which doesn’t demonstrate a big commitment. My first guess was that millionshort.com scraped off the top layers of search results from an established search engine such as Google, but since I’ve not found any legal action against millionshort, maybe they’ve put together their own spider, database, and user interface — which is a major undertaking. Maybe they bought a defunct search engine, added some code, and re-branded it. I don’t know.
I’ve spent a little time experimenting with removing everything from the first million results to the first 100 results, and found some new sites.
Endless Amusements, or, The Art Of Legerdemain Made Easy To Young Persons (publ 1846. Author: Theodore Abbot, Illustrator: Abel Bowen)
Is SEO just WWW sleight of hand?
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been spending many hours recently on SEO (search engine optimization) for clients. Luckily, I believe in my clients and their products and services. However, by analyzing the SEO results of competitors, I’ve become aware that just because a website appears at the top of a Google search results page, means neither that the product nor service is popular, nor even that it’s worthwhile. What it does mean, in competitive search categories, is that the website owner spent time and/or money on marketing. Nothing more.
So if you’re visiting Tulsa, Oklahoma and suddenly need to find a dentist to attend to your toothache, don’t assume when you search for TULSA DENTIST, that the first few search results will be the best dentists in Tulsa. All that it means is that those few dentists at the top worked on their SEO. They simply had a PR budget. They may or may not be good dentists.
Is this what Google and the other search engines intended? I doubt it, but that’s what we’ve got.
I’ve grown to hate google.com’s obnoxious auto-complete and Instant scripts.
Since 2010, Google has been loading more and more scripts and useless sidebars on their google.com front page. I’ve tried using Firefox with NoScript to turn off the scripting, but that brings along its own compatibility problems. I find that google.com’s stupid scripts make it harder to obtain meaningful search results. Then they removed the cached option from the search results page. That was the last straw.
Today I’m changing my computers’ home pages to yandex.com. Maybe Google will come to its senses, but I don’t hold much hope that that will happen soon. I’ve defined Google.com as the home page on hundreds of computers over the past ten years or so, but from now on, it’ll be yandex.com instead.
It just isn’t available to US-based users. Try Google’s German site for cached pages and report back, please.
Back in November, I wrote an article (Have you noticed that Google’s cached link is missing?) about Google.com’s sudden hiding of the cached option. I just discovered that the cached option is still in plain sight on google.de when your IP address is within Germany. When your IP address is within the United States, the cached option is hidden.
This is most curious. What happens when you search with google.de?
My second favorite search engine is going to disappear. I began using alltheweb.com back in 1999, before I used Google. I liked its simple user interface and its huge index. I think that it was located in Europe. Once I began using Google, I’d still use AllTheWeb as my primary search engine. As Google’s index and services exploded in size, I demoted AllTheWeb to the role of my secondary search engine.
Now, Yahoo (AllTheWeb’s owner since c 2004) has posted this notice on AllTheWeb’s home page:
Yahoo! will be closing AlltheWeb on April 4, 2011, as we focus on other features to improve your search experience. Starting on April 4, 2011, http://www.alltheweb.com will redirect to Yahoo! Search at http://search.yahoo.com. Thanks for your understanding.
It’s sad to see Google’s competitors shlepping off to the deadpool, because it’s one less alternative for everyone.
Sometime in June, I noticed that Google’s search results began to change. For one thing, relevant keyword searches no longer found russbellew.com, and more irrelevant sites appeared in Google’s search results for a number of other keyword searches. I was sure that this was just a hiccup and that soon Google’s searches would improve. However, Google’s irrelevant results continue to appear, though the ranking of the irrelevant pages changes from day to day. It’s obvious that Google is tinkering with something, but aside from mentioning the project name Caffeine, they’ve not revealed much about it.
You can try a Google pre-production version here: http://www2.sandbox.google.com/ If there is a link at the bottom of the page that’s labelled "Dissatisfied?", you may provide feedback to Google. (I’ve never seen this link.)
In the meantime, I’ve begun to use Microsoft’s Bing search engine (http://www.bing.com), and feel that it returns better results than Google. (There, I’ve said it.) Webmasters and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) masters are trying to discern exactly what Google has done, but so far I haven’t read anything definitive. Here’s one conversation: http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/3963910-3-30.htm
It looks like Bing’s recent entry into the search field has lit a fire under Google. I just question whether Google is now running in the right direction.
Microsoft recently dusted off its second-fiddle search engine called Live Search and renamed it Bing.
It’s pretty good. As a counter-punch, Google just announced that it will produce an operating system which will be available in mid-2010. These heavyweights are both trying to deliver knockout punches.
Google’s counterpunch Google’s operating system, to be named Chrome OS, will be oriented toward storing a user’s information on the Internet, rather than a local hard drive. Google promises to emphasize speed and security in Chrome OS. It will be open source and will be built upon Linux.
Did I mention that if Chrome OS succeeds, your PC won’t need Microsoft Windows of any flavor? Not only could this be a mortal blow to Microsoft Windows, it also threaten’s Microsoft’s other cash cow, MS Office, since Google Docs’ web-centric view of the world stores word processor, spreadsheet, etc "in the cloud" (i.e.., the Internet). As Internet speeds increase, it becomes possible to store programs and data on servers. One upside will be reduced need to backup your PC’s data. A downside is that Google will learn even more about you.
Google’s hidden cost: privacy Please don’t forget that Google is not doing this for free. Their business model is built upon the power of directed advertising. Google sucks up information about your web browsing activities. It’s estimated that Google knows more about each US citizen than the FBI does. If you have a Gmail account, carefully read Gmail’s Terms Of Service (TOS). (You read all of it already, I’m sure.) Google retains the right to read through your mail in order to direct ads at you. From Google’s TOS:
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.
11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.
11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.
11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.
So, on our PCs we’ll have a choice:
Pay for Microsoft’s operating system in cash, OR
Go with some form of Linux, OR
Pay for Google’s operating system by giving up (even more of) our privacy
To call WolframAlpha a "search engine" doesn’t do it justice. Its creator describes it as a "computational knowledge engine".
It was just placed on-line a few days ago, and already it’s pretty darned impressive. Unlike Google, its knowledge base is built upon structured data. When you query it, it adds organization, interpretation, and calculation to return answers — not links to websites. I’m impressed — but:
it’s not a replacement for Google or other traditional search engines.
its knowledge base is incomplete. It has huge gaps now. Maybe in a year or two those gaps will be filled.
Do you remember 2001: A Space Odyssey? Do you remember how HAL would obediently answer all questions posed by Dave and Frank? WolframAlpha attempts to do HAL’s job — before HAL turned to the dark side. Have a look; the FAQ page is worth reading. Here’s its URL: http://www.wolframalpha.com/ <-The word "alpha" indicates that it’s under test.
Some ex-Google people last week introduced a new search engine: http://www.cuil.com They went online for the first time on Monday, and were soon bogged down with processing over 50 million search requests on their first day. They seem to be back on their feet now.
The Cuil founders reportedly have $34 million in venture capital to start their venture. Anna Patterson, who apparently is responsible for much of the technology behind today’s version of Google, created the Cuil (pronounced "cool") search engine. My tests uncovered lots of sites (such as http://russbellew.com Harumph!) that were missing from Cuil’s initial index. Note that they profess to not collect as much user information as Google.
I wish them luck. As far as I know, Google succeeds because it’s not just very good software; it’s very good software that runs on a huge, widely dispersed, fault tolerant cloud of computers. It’ll take time and gobs of money to build a competing "cloud".