Google has provided a NYT reporter rare access to some secrets of Google’s search engine. Unfortunately, it’s like in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothee’s dog Tito pulls away the curtain exposing something that is much less impressive than you’d hoped.
We’re so used to hearing about Google’s perfect algorithm, which has a 500 million variables (according to Google’s site).
But the New York Times’s Saul Hansell writes up a good description of what appears to be a rather rickety system — with band-aid solutions being slapped on to cover up problem search terms. See the NYT account here.
For instance, Google has trouble deciding how many fresh results to show, versus old ones, for various terms. At one point, Google’s front page stopped showing results about the historic “French Revolution,” instead returning only pages about the contemporary French presidential debate when people typed in that term. And Bill Brougher, a Google product manager, complained when the phrase “teak patio Palo Alto” didn’t return a local store called the Teak Patio. Google’s formulas were not giving enough importance to links from other sites about Palo Alto, so Google had to jimmy-rig that too. Finally, there’s a surprising amount of personalization already going into Google’s response to your searches — that is, if you have logged into one of Google’s other services so that it knows what sort of preferences you have. This piece is worth reading for those still mystified by Google’s ways.
Paradoxically, it explains why other sites, such as Mahalo likely won’t do very well. Jason Calacanis’ new search engine, reliant on humans, may make some advertising revenue, but the problem of freshness will keep it from being a big hit (see our coverage here). The humans won’t be able to keep up. Here’s more explanation about why, and still more from Danny Sullivan, the most thoughtful expert on search that we know.
Sproose is the latest project seeking to exploit input from humans, marrying a Digg-like system with traditional search. The Danville, Calif. company notified VentureBeat of its launch over the weekend.
And now Microsoft is reportedly secretely gathering a team of twenty or more developers tasked at building their next generation search engine. In this climate, of rapid change, it is prudent to keep coming at this problem with fresh eyes.