Category Archives: Search

Google To Feature Longform Journalism In Search

Google's In-depth News Search

Inside Search

Google will now begin to feature in-depth reporting and longform writing in their search queries.

Where the default Google search on any given topic brings up recently written news, the company will now cater to users who are looking for more thoughtful coverage on a subject. As Hamish McKenzie of PandoDaily explains, Google has enabled a kind of Twitter-style news consumption. This is where the most prominent stories Google offers are always the stories that were written up moments earlier, or stories that were extremely popular within the current news cycle.

The advantage of this style is that it provides readers with the news of the day, the word of the moment without much fuss. The downside, though, is that other kinds of journalism, the kinds that take longer to produce, or that don’t link strongly to the events that are happening THAT DAY are crowded out. This mode favors rapid-fire news over thoughtful essays, press release blog posts over careful criticism.

For example: If you searched “Boston Bomber” Google will give you a bunch of crappy, recently written articles about the Rolling Stones cover or the alleged revelations that he was into right-wing-conspiracy theories. While these links have merit, it would also be extremely useful for Google to give us some definitive accounts of the whole Boston bombing episode–not just the insignificant trickling of brand new news stories.

This novel, in-depth highlight will help readers more fully understand.

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LinkedIn And The Invisible Employment Screen

My new piece at The New Inquiry:

Far from a buggy nuisance, this kind of openness is LinkedIn’s hallmark feature. As BuzzFeed’s listicles overlord Ben Smith chirped, “LinkedIn’s stalker problem is not totally unrelated to how awesome it is as a reporting tool.” Unlike the more social networks whose overriding ethos is YOLO, the employment site only wants to see the front, business-side of your mullet. By showcasing CVs and work affiliations, LinkedIn operates as a professional safe space. Here, you know for sure prospective employers are looking. As a designated network for the interaction between us and our would-be bosses, LinkedIn ostensibly guards against the rampant and potentially illegal practice of the invisible employment screen.

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A Radical New Way To Look At Facebook

Matt Buchanan of the New Yorker Elements blog writes:

Graph Search will eventually index virtually all of the content on Facebook—every link that’s ever been posted, every status update, every piece of data that outside Web sites have shared with Facebook through its Open Graph program—but what users will get starting today is fairly limited in its scope, restricted to searches of photos, people, places, and interests. It doesn’t work on mobile yet, either. And it is ultimately limited by the kind of information that people share on Facebook. But it is already a powerful tool for excavating information that would otherwise go unnoticed, and for spotting previously undiscovered patterns.

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Google Search or a Pinterest One?

Ashley McCollum of BuzzFeed makes a clever observation. When a user searches for a word on Google and then types in that same query on Pinterest, the difference in results reveals the limitations of Google’s internal logic.

Searching “stripes” on Pinterest, for example, brings up striped clothing, fabric, and art design:

“Stripes” on Google spits this out:

McCollum goes on to list 9 more comparisons and the contrast is demonstrated in each instance. Where Pinterest recalls fashion, art, and conceptual abstraction, Google retrieves products, names and hyper-literalness. (When she types in “California” we get pins of beaches and forests and skimpy clothes; Google instead delivers maps and pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.)

From Google’s perspective, this is a rather silly and unfair analysis. The search colossus stores and catalogs the entire Internet, whereas Pinterest caters to sartorialists, designers, and artists. That Google’s searches are too obvious or mechanical or archetypal, as compared to Pinterest, is not so much criticism as it is a difference in intended user experience.

Even so, I find McCollum’s argument compelling. She grasps towards the point that certain kinds of computer driven algorithms are severely limited. And that a more curatorial approach to search has obvious advantages.

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The Future of Search

“Answer, converse, anticipate,” are the verbs Nathaniel Mott uses to describe Google’s newest search venture. Writing at PandoDaily, Mott explains the thrust of Google’s opening keynote during the 1st day of its I/O conference. The annual summit, geared towards developers, featured the company’s newest innovations.

With “Knowledge Graph” the search giant “will begin to answer Google users’ questions before they ask them.”

Mott continues:

Voice-activated search coming to the Chrome browser is perhaps the most interesting of today’s search-related announcements. Google Now — or some version of it, anyway — has been rumored to be coming to desktop computers for months, and its addition to Chrome will aid Google’s attempts to become a ubiquitous aspect of users’ lives.

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Europeans Reach Deal With Google on Searches

“Google has for the first time agreed to legally binding changes to its search results after an antitrust investigation by European regulators,” writes Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times .

After a two-year inquiry, the European Commission has accepted Google’s proposed settlement, according to two people briefed on the agreement who spoke anonymously because the proposal was not yet public.

Google will not have to change the algorithm that produces its search results, the people said. Under the proposal, Google agrees to clearly label search results from its own properties, like Google Plus Local or Google News, and in some cases to show links from rival search engines.

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Facebook’s New Social Search

Last week Facebook unveiled it’s newest product, or what Mark Zuckerberg called Facebook’s newest pillar: Graph Search.

Using natural language, users will be able to search within Facebook for things like: “friends who live in Seattle,” or “friends who listen to Kanye.” It’s very similar to how we use Google. The upshot, of course, is that Facebook is filled with all kinds of personal data that is not accessible to Google’s indexing and the wider internet.

Using our “social graph,” Facebook’s nerd language for the online networks we’ve woven together, Zuckerberg and company will offer a personalized search. Rather than use complex algorithms informed by people’s online behavior (like Google), Facebook will run it’s custom query using our friends and jobs, the things we’ve “liked” and the places we’ve been.

As I’ve written before, this is exactly what the new Foursquare is doing.

While many tech observers see “social,” “local,” or “personalized,” as the future of search engines, there are reasons to avoid the quick embrace. For starters, Google works pretty damn well. Secondly, if I’m looking to a trustworthy friend to recommend a restaurant or a mechanic, wouldn’t I just text that person?

Another issue mentioned by many reporters is that most people don’t use Facebook or Foursquare the way power users do. So while, in theory, a personalized social search may be more valuable to me it’s also a lot more limited in scope. How many of your friends actually rate their music and movies and then post online? (Usually it’s just that crazy handful of people who blow up your news feed.)

Facebook’s promo vid makes this kind of information culling look like an enriching experience. While I’m very skeptical, I’ll wait for the roll out before I become a full on naysayer.

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How To Measure Influence?

Darcel Dissapoints - NYTimes

Darcel Dissapoints – NYTimes

Even as social media collect an increasing amount of data about our personal preferences, quantifying taste is exceedingly difficult.

The tech journalist Stephen Baker, writing in the NYTimes, frames the recent paradigm shift in advertising like this: Where clever humanists, “Mad Men” advertisers like Don Draper draw from the liberal arts to predict and guide our shopping behavior, search technology like Google has recently enabled a more quantitative approach.

Baker writes:

In the last decade however, those numbers people have rocketed to the top. They build and operate the search engines. They’re flexing their quantitative muscles at agencies and starting new ones. And the rise of social networks, which stream a global gabfest into their servers, catapults these quants ever higher. Their most powerful pitches aren’t ideas but rather algorithms. This sends many of today’s Don Drapers into early retirement.

While this narrative may lead one to believe that advertising on social media is the next frontier, Baker provides evidence suggesting otherwise.

Corporate advertisers are devoting only a modest 14 percent of their online budgets to social networks. According to comScore, a firm that tracks online activity, e-commerce soared 16 percent from last year, to nearly $39 billion this holiday season. But advertising from social networks appeared to play only a supporting role. I.B.M. researchers found that on the pivotal opening day of the season, Black Friday, a scant 0.68 percent of online purchases came directly from Facebook. The number from Twitter was undetectable.

Interestingly, Baker goes on to suggest that perhaps social media’s ineffective marketing is merely a function of firms measuring the wrong things.

Baker points out that while Facebook and Twitter may not lead to direct sales, their likes and retweets are potentially valuable, in nudging our inclinations. He writes, “The impact of new technologies is invariably misjudged because we measure the future with yardsticks from the past.”

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Check Ins Are For High Schoolers, Pussy Whipped Boyfriends, And For The Old Foursquare… What’s The Future Foursquare?

Think for a moment on the concept of “checking-in.”  “Call me when you land!” mom says.  “Let me know when you’re on the road,” your girlfriend commands.  “Text me when you get there,” you’re annoying, psuedo-friend from college begs, because he knows that you’ll inevitably flake, but it doesn’t really matter because you’ll just say “sorry, I was totally smashed” the next time you run into him.

Most view these kinds of check ins as cumbersome chores, annoying reminders that your tab is being kept, that your leash, however long and unseen, is still snugly fastened.

I used to think foursquare was a horribly shitty, pointless app.  I used to think that their kinds of check ins involved vexing friction like calling dad after his 3rd “Are U OK? I miss you” guilt-text.  But it seems that the company wants to head in a different direction: One in which your phone, and its GPS technology, becomes a passive, ambient, knowing-guide to your social life.

While foursquare’s 25 million users continue to check in, the discovery company’s co-founder and CEO, Dennis Crowley, sees a trend in the way new users interact with the service. In an interview with Om Malik of GigaOm, Crowley talks about a future for foursquare.  Where the companies initial user base actively checked into restaurants, bars and coffee shops, many new users sign up with no intention of checking into establishments.  Instead, these people utilize foursquare as a guide to their local social scene. Where’s a good sandwich place around here? What bar is gonna be crazy tonight? Which bookstore did my roommate recommend?

With over 2.5 billion check ins already logged, Crowley believes that many people simply want to “consume” the reviews of their friends rather than checking in and creating their own.

Moving from active usage, explicitly stating to the digital public where you are and what you thought of a particular steakhouse, Crowley believes future foursquare will be a passive, ambient service, like your phone unobtrusively suggesting a sushi place that your girls love.  Or, you’d receive notice of a hilarious happy hour special because your foursquare knows, from previous experience, that you are a self-sabotaging, Jager-bombing binge drinker.

Alluding to Harry’s Potter’s, Marauder’s Map, the GPS geek complains about the sad state of map apps.  They are blank, Crowley says.  You are a pathetic, lonesome dot.  Why not populate a map with many other dots representing your friends?  You could see where the bros are draining Sunday pitchers, what club all the high heels are click-clacking towards.

Foursquare wants to become a hyper specific search and discovery tool, an app that uses your  friends’ taste (your trust) to become “contextually aware” of your preferences.  The company could be your silent cartographer, your local search engine who knows, without you saying, just where you want go.

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I’m upping my Internet game.  If you enjoyed my style come feast on my tweets.  @PlanetHozz

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Regulating Search: Google, Frommer’s And The FTC

L. Gordon Crovitz writes in the WSJ

After Google acquired the travel guide company, Frommer’s, watchdog groups and the “Fairsearch.org consortium of competitors to Google” are calling on the FTC to invoke anti-trust regulations on the search giant.  Rather than direct users to the full array of travel sites, opponents of the acquisition believe Google will unfairly redirect traffic to its new company.

From Google’s perspective this acquisition of branded content (a trusted travel guide) will improve the search experience for users.  Instead of handing over a lengthy list of travel guides, a list that would need sifting and researching, Google will feature it’s own content from Frommer’s, saving users the time and work needed to wade through daunting search results.  (Google has also recently acquired Zagat, the restaurant guide).

Crovitz notes that antitrust policies are meant to produce the best consumer experience and not necessarily to shield competitors from the acquisitions of companies like Google.

If the FTC acts on on this acquisition it would overturn its own 2003 agreement that the Commission would not seek “disgorgement of profits as a remedy for alleged violations.” The FTC would hit Google with financial penalties and send a discouraging signal to technology companies.

Crovitz sees this as a rising trend with Silicon Valley and Washington, where companies “substitute lobbying for competition.”

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